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Sunday December 04, 2022

Protests in Kazakhstan

January 09, 2022

Mass protests have erupted in Kazakhstan – the largest Central Asian Republic – triggered by a sharp rise in fuel prices. The scale and intensity of protests have shaken the Kazakh regime. The powerful protests have clearly shown that people are angry and frustrated with their economic and social situation.

The anger and frustration that was brewing for years finally boiled over on the streets across the country. The struggle is not limited to cities. Strike action is developing among workers in the oil and gas industries of western Kazakhstan, as well as among miners and metal workers.

The movement has the potential to grow and spread among the different sections of Kazakh society. But to transform the current protest movement into a mass revolutionary uprising, it needs strong leadership, a detailed programme and a clear strategy which unfortunately is a missing link at the moment.

According to the figures released by the Kazakh government, at least 18 police officers and military personnel have died and nearly 750 have been injured in clashes in the last few days. No details on civilian casualties have officially been provided so far – until the time of writing this article. According to unconfirmed media reports, dozens of protestors are believed to be killed and more than a thousand injured in the clashes. More than 3,000 protests have been arrested.

The regime has reacted with a delayed and nervous combination of concessions and further repressive measures. On the one hand, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has taken several measures to pacify angry protestors. On the other, he is using repressive measures to crush the protest movement and popular dissent through the security apparatus. He has given the shoot-at-sight orders. The army is now patrolling the streets in Almaty and other cities where most of the violence took place on Wednesday and Thursday. He is using brutal state power against the protesters.

The president has declared a ‘state of emergency’ for two weeks in some cities including Almaty, and a night curfew has also been imposed. The internet has reportedly been partially shut down in parts of the country, including the former capital, Almaty, as the president called for calm and pledged that his “government would not fall”.

On the other hand, he is also taking measures to assure the protesters that he is listening to them and trying to address their demands. He has removed former strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev as head of Kazakhstan’s Security Council. Nursultan ruled the country for nearly three decades with an iron hand before resigning in 2019. With his removal, President Tokayev has met one of the popular demands of the protesters.

The government has already resigned, and the president has accepted the resignations of government ministers. He also announced to reverse the fuel price hike from $0.28 (120 Kazakhstani Tenge) to $0.14 (60 Tenge) per litre. Tokayev has announced various measures such as the introduction of state regulation of the prices of petrol, diesel, natural gas and essential food products.

He further promised that the state would “consider the possibility” of subsidising rents for socially vulnerable households, “consider the necessity” of introducing a freeze on the costs of utilities, and draft a law on personal bankruptcy. But the resignations of ministers, the reversal of the price hike, and other measures and promises have failed to pacify the angry protesters.

These measures and announcements show that the regime is nervous and worried. It is using a carrot-and-stick policy to control the situation, using repression and concessions simultaneously to split the movement.

President Tokayev invoked the collective security provision of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), inviting troops from CSTO countries to enter Kazakhstan as part of a peacekeeping operation. The Russian contingent of 3,000 troops has already landed in Kazakhstan while other countries of the CSTO are also dispatching more than 700 troops.

Kazakhstan is of major economic and geostrategic significance, bordering with both China and Russia. It has developed close economic relations with China in the last decade and enjoys close economic ties with the EU and US.

The fact is that the regime in Kazakhstan can only blame itself for the current unstable situation. The neoliberal economic policies have created widespread inequality and class polarisation. The tiny ruling elite and a handful of oligarchs have benefited from the policies of privatisation, liberlisation and deregulation since 1991.

The elite used the country’s natural resources like oil, gas, uranium, coal and iron ore to fill their pockets. In the last three decades, the people saw that the rich have amassed huge wealth through corruption and plunder of state and natural resources.

The social discontent over the neoliberal economic policies and the never-ending authoritarian rule has been brewing for decades and repeatedly expressed itself, especially in the country’s western regions. Mass protest movements were broke out in 2011, 2016 and 2019-20. The regular protests, after every few years, clearly indicate that anger and discontent is widespread and deep-rooted.

The regime makes promises and announces measures to address issues like unemployment, low wages, falling living standards, expensive education, health and housing after every protest movement. It promises to introduce economic and political reforms, but it never delivers on its commitments.

The average salary in Kazakhstan is $570 a month, according to the government’s statistics, but many people earn far less in a country that had the per capita income of $9,122 in 2020, slightly above that of Turkey and Mexico but below its annual peak of nearly $14,000 in 2013. The minimum wage is even far less.

The people are tired of rampant corruption, repression and the economic and political domination of the tiny elite. They want an end to the neoliberal economic policies and authoritarian rule.

Time after time, they have shown that they want ‘change’. They want better public services, decent jobs. a living wage, visible improvements in their lives, and political and democratic rights.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Comments

    Atif Zahid Khan commented 11 months ago

    Sir in Pakistan we are far away from their income but what is the reason do you think we always accept any change made by our government ... don,t you think it is just because of our family system... that bound each other in any kind of economic pressure.

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